What should we do with bad feelings? Negative affects, impotential responses

Thomas Dekeyser, Vickie Zhang*, David Bissell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Bad feelings are everywhere. When faced with this situation in our empirical encounters or conceptual analyses, most socio-spatial research is committed to making things right again, with an eye to unleashing new potentials for action by repairing bad feeling. Yet this ‘ethics of rehabilitation’ assumes both the inherent possibility and ethical desirability of working away those affects that are deemed to be ‘negative’. We argue that this activating process risks delegitimising, in possibly troubling or violent ways, the ethical validity of both incapacities (when one is unable to act) and negative capacities (when one decides to not act). Instead of a rehabilitative ethics, we propose an ‘ethics of impotentiality’ that suspends the urge to activate negative affects, offering a radically situated ethical relation that is neither didactic nor moralising, refuses any easy distinction between empowering and disempowering affects, and allows for subjects to stay with inaction.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalProgress in Human Geography
Early online date11 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Dec 2023


  • affect
  • ambivalence
  • ethics
  • impotentiality
  • incapacity
  • negativity
  • refusal


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